27 June, 2018

P2P's "Big Three": The Race to Expand

P2P's "Big Three": The Race to Expand

Peer to peer lending (P2P) really came to fruition in the early-mid 2010s when the “Big Three” platforms of Zopa, Funding Circle and RateSetter had launched and bedded in their lending models. By 2018, the UK market grew to include dozens of platforms offering a multitude of lending opportunities. The now multi-billion-pound industry has reached a level of maturity where major players are looking at different avenues to grow: Funding Circle is expanding globally; Zopa is becoming a bank; and RateSetter is offering exposure to a range of asset classes. In addition, there are murmurings of IPOs circling.

We ask the questions: Why are they expanding outside of pure UK P2P? And why now?

Growth in local P2P alone isn’t enough

Since 2005, approximately £12 billion has been lent across 23 major peer to peer lending platforms. A crude segmentation of the market would be the “Big Three” and the rest.

The first chart below plots the annual lending volumes since 2011 for Funding Circle, RateSetter and Zopa.

The second chart illustrates the market-share breakdown for 2017 in terms of platform lending volumes.

Both charts support the notion that the Big Three players are growing and occupying a more than healthy share of the market in terms of loan volumes.

Funding Circle, RateSetter, Zopa lending volumes 2011-2017

Funding Circle, RateSetter, Zopa lending growth

Chart 1: Funding Circle, RateSetter, Zopa annual lending volumes. Source: Orca Analytics

P2P UK market-share breakdown 2017: Big Three v rest of market

P2P lending UK market-share breakdown

Chart 2: P2P lending market-share breakdown 2017. Source: Orca Analytics

As we can see, 77% of capital lent in 2017 originated across Funding Circle, RateSetter and Zopa combined. Generally, the Big Three have occupied 2/3 or more of the market over time. This reflects the strength in brand, which for these major players has been nurtured over several years.

What does this suggest?

Well, what’s clear is that a significant share of the market and year-on-year growth isn’t enough to satisfy ambitions.

The UK market and the standard product-sets available within P2P are perhaps not enough.

Ambitious expansion plans

Funding Circle moves into global territories

A report recently published by Oxford Economics entitled The Economic Impact of Lending Through Funding Circle stated that ‘Funding Circle is the leading small business loans platforms in the United Kingdom, United States, Germany and Netherlands.’ In terms of employment generated from loans made across the platform in the four countries, the report found that 75,000 jobs were created in 2017.

After expansion into the U.S, Funding Circle joined up with Zencap in 2015, thereby facilitating their move into Europe (specifically Germany, Spain and Netherlands).

At the time of the Zencap news, Samir Desai, CEO of Funding Circle, stated:

‘Our vision is to help millions of businesses across the world sidestep the outdated and inefficient banking system and borrow from investors.’

RateSetter differentiates itself with range of asset classes

While most P2P lending platforms concentrate on one market, e.g, Zopa on consumers and Funding Circle on businesses, RateSetter offers exposure to loans in consumer, property and business markets.

The pie chart below highlights the diverse range of loan purposes available when lending across RateSetter.

RateSetter loan book breakdown

Chart 3: RateSetter loan purpose breakdown. Source: Orca Analytics

RateSetter is steadfast in its focus on retail investors, unwilling to be influenced by the allure of institutional money – in 2017, only 2% of capital lent across RateSetter came from institutions, this compares to Funding Circle at 61%.

Rhydian Lewis previously stated:

‘We fought hard to ensure the normal saver – whatever their deposit – is able to access the market easily and isn’t forced to go via an intermediary. We built our business around the retail customer. That won’t change.’

Zopa broadens product set aiming to become a bank

In late 2016, Zopa announced plans to launch a “next generation bank” alongside the platform’s investment arm of the business.

At launch, Zopa plans to offer FSCS-protected deposit accounts for savers, P2P investments, including Innovative Finance ISAs, and personal loans, car finance, and credit cards for people looking to borrow.

In a blog post, Zopa CEO, Jaidev Janardana, exclaimed:

‘We’re uniquely placed to make the next generation bank a leader in consumer finance. No other provider has [our] combination of attributes.’

By broadening its range of products, Zopa is offering greater choice to consumers and challenging the traditional banking system which lacks cutting edge and high-quality customer service.

The company’s vision is to ‘make Zopa the best place for money’.

IPO ready

Funding Circle is investing heavily in its global expansion plans – evidenced by a £35.7m loss for the Group year ending 31st December 2016 - and is, allegedly, readying for an IPO later this year having raised £82m in January 2017. The company is valued around the £1bn mark and has sourced big hitters to support the float, including Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and Numis.

Zopa and RateSetter have both expressed an interest in listing their businesses. Zopa raised £32m in June 2017 from India’s Wadhawan Global Capital and is preparing for a £50m raise, valuing the business at £400m. This is understood to be a pre-IPO round according to Sky News.

Last year, RateSetter’s chief executive, Rhydian Lewis, confirmed plans to IPO in a bid to solidify its “investor brand”.

Size of UK P2P investor base a constraint

So why is it now that all three major players seem to be taking a leap? One key concern raised is around the sustainability of growth in pure peer to peer lending. The retail investor base in the UK is niche in its hundreds of thousands and without intermediaries the asset class will likely struggle to scale into the mainstream.

Moreover, the market has an abundance of choice in terms of loan originators, but differentiation in terms of products is sparse.

For the Big Three, it’s important to differentiate themselves and appeal to broader audiences given they’ve reached a point where they occupy a significant portion of the UK P2P market. In order to achieve ambitions of being the first P2P platforms in the UK to float, their plans need to be big. The race is on.